This is a re-release of an interview we did in 2008, with Pamela Sebag-Montefiore. In light of our upcoming Latin day, we thought it was prudent to share this very enlightening interview with the public, to ensure that people have a firm grasp of we, at blen, are trying to achieve.

Latin Teaching and Learning

An interview with Pamela Sebag-Montefiore, Teacher of Latin and French, Our Lady of Victories School, London

General Description of School:
Our Lady of Victories is an oversubscribed voluntary aided Catholic primary school with 229 pupils aged 3-11. Almost two-thirds of the pupils are from minority ethnic groups and about half are learning English as an additional language. The most common home languages are Italian, French and Spanish.

Latin was introduced into the curriculum as a lunchtime club by the last deputy head (about 15 years ago). All pupils in Key Stage 2 have one lesson a week in the Spring Term (French being taught the other two terms); we start at ½ hour, building up to 1 hour in Year 6. Latin pupils also study French, as everyone studies both languages from the age of 7.

Pupil Response to Learning Latin:
The response of the pupils to learning Latin is very positive. They currently have the use of Barbara Bell's excellent 'starting out in Latin' book: Minimus. The boys enjoy it as much as the girls - probably because there is a great deal about life in the army.

Differences Between pupil learning in French and in Latin:
There have to be differences between the pupils' learning in French and Latin as they are obviously aware that Latin is a 'dead' language. They know that they are not going to go out of the classroom and 'speak' it (except as a bit of fun) so obviously the teaching of Latin is not so much on the oral side.

Approaches for Teaching Latin:
Latin is taught in a slightly more formal way than French. This is because I do want to get across to the pupils various themes e.g. the fact that by learning a verb table, the equivalent table will be recognisable in any other European language they will probably learn. We also study famous quotations (e.g. 'tempus fugit', 'carpe diem' etc.) as they might come across these later on.

Latin as a Vehicle for Increasing Pupils Awareness of Language and Discipline in Learning:
In our lessons we are fortunate to be able to call on other European nationalities for 'comparative philology' sessions! For example when we have learned the numbers 1-10 we can have a rendering - to be put on the board - in French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese… The same for animals e.g. - and the pupils love it when their language is like the Latin and English is not!

Latin, of course, often gives us a more 'advanced' word in English e.g. 'obesus' = fat (giving our word 'obese') or 'iratus' = angry (giving 'irate' in English). I never let a new word pass without pointing to an English derivative if there is one.

They certainly become interested in words and stop and think about where the English words might come from.

It would be nice to think that the pupils who learn Latin are more disciplined in learning in general; I think this is difficult to judge, however.

(Reference: Pamela Sebag-Montefiore, Teacher of Latin and French)

For resources and materials on the teaching of Latin, please click here.

Pamela Sebag-Montefiore


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